Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Behind the Books: Integrating Science and Language Arts

Most people think of me as a children’s book author who writes about science, but I consider myself a scientist first and a writer second. Over the last few years, as “teaching to the test” has increasingly limited science instruction in elementary classrooms, I’ve also taken on the role of science educator.

According to a recent study, nearly 86 percent of scientists who reported loving their jobs could trace their interest in science to someone they knew or an experience they had when they were 7 to 10 years old. This finding demonstrates the critical importance of solid science instruction for elementary students. And yet, standardized tests stress language arts and math over the content areas.

What’s the solution to this problem? Integrating science and language arts. Coupling inquiry-based science lessons and language arts instruction allows educators to prepare students for the critical reading and open response portions of standardized tests without neglecting science education. And here’s the good news: It’s much easier than you might think.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a number of ways to sneak key science concepts into popular language arts teaching strategies. These include:

So far, I’ve received nothing but positive feedback from the teachers who have tried my ideas in their classrooms, so I’m hard at work developing more.

I hope it won’t be long before programs like Partnership for Twenty-first Century Skills begin to move our educational system in new and exciting directions. But until that time comes, sprinkling science content into language arts lessons is one way to make sure that elementary students have access to solid science instruction.


  1. GREAT stuff, Melissa. I'm so glad to see this. Do you have a link to the study of the scientists with the life-changing experiences ages 7 to 10? I'd love to see it... I'm taking off on a NASA-sponsored research cruise to the Arctic, and would appreciate support in explaining why it's so important for them to bring along a children's writer. Thank you!

  2. You're going to the Arctic with NASA? Lucky duck!

    Unfortunately, I don't have a link or even the exact citation. The information came from a survey AAAS conducted of it's members a few years ago.

    I'd say what you tell the scientists is that you are an expert in communicating their exciting news of their discoveries to kids, and those kids need to be engaged and fascinated by science if we want to inspire them to become the scientists of tomorrow.

  3. Hooray for integrating science and language arts, Melissa! I can trace my love for science directly to my elementary school science teacher, Mr. Beaver, who shared his enthusiasm through "science on a cart" as well as field study outside on school grounds.
    (Still soooo jealous, Karen. Bon voyage!)

  4. You've got it, Melissa! And Leslie -- Mr. Beaver!!